Sog.: W.R. Burnett. Scen.: Lamar Trotti. F.: Joseph MacDonald. M.: Harmon Jones. Scgf.: Lyle R. Wheeler, Albert Hogsett. Mus.: Alfred Newman. Int.: Anne Baxter (Constance May, alias Mike), Gregory Peck (James ‘Stretch’ Dawson), Richard Widmark (Dude), James Barton (nonno), Henry [‘Harry’] Morgan (Half Pint), Robert Arthur (Bull Run), John Russell (Lengthy), Charles Kemper (Walrus), Robert Adler (Jed). Prod.: Darryl F. Zanuck, Lamar Trotti per Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 35mm.
A wonderfully disorienting cinematic experience. It’s fitting that Yellow Sky opens, especially for fans of Wellman, with a scene sure to elicit a sensation of déjà vu. Wellman places Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark, and the rest of their gang back at a bar very much like the one he uses in the opening of The Ox-Bow Incident five years earlier. And, just like in Ox-Bow, the men find a suggestive painting behind the bar and through their reactions you learn almost everything you need to know about them. But Yellow Sky‘s similarities with the Henry Fonda picture end there as its story centers not on the claustrophobia of a mob but on a small group of outlaws making their way through exhaustingly open or treacherously abandoned spaces on a criminal quest for money. Part-western but also part-noir, style is key in Yellow Sky, as Wellman highlights the expansive landscapes with disjointed camera angles, too-close-for-comfort close-ups, and high-contrast black and white photography. You see and feel the space and, after a misleadingly jovial theme song that leads into a brief cue from Oh Susanna, you also hear it, as Wellman strips the movie of any soundtrack except the uncomfortable sound of silence. Peck, Widmark, and any horse caught on camera are at the center of the action, but it’s Anne Baxter that steals the show. As the only woman in the picture, she’s typical of many of Wellman’s women of the 1940s and 1950s, a no holds barred frontier women using her body as a means of achieving a life of her own choosing. That her character’s struggle stands out comes as no surprise when you hear Wellman’s take on the stars of Yellow Sky: “One of my favorite actors is in that – Greg Peck. I say that sarcastically. We made a good picture with him, despite him. He asked me one day, ‘How can I get tough?’ I said ‘Well you can’t fight. Can you kick a football?’ He said ‘Yes’. I said ‘Well, then you’re going to kick Widmark’s head off’. So I showed him to do it without hurting anybody. And, of course, the one who gives something like that effect is the one who gets kicked, not the kicker. […] Another time Peck asked me, ‘How the hell am I going to fight Anne Baxter?’ So I said, ‘Anne Baxter will kick the hell out of you. And when you start that fight, you better look out for yourself and wear something over your …, because she’ll destroy you’. She was a wonderful gal; kicked the hell out of him in that scene. She didn’t like him either and that was her one chance of getting even with him”.